Ernestine Wagner of Marion, Ala. knew something was wrong with her then 2-year-old son Caleb Brooks. He wasn’t eating and was beginning to lose weight. She took him to the nearest pediatric clinic 30 miles away in Selma, but doctors assured her that Caleb was healthy and his disinterest in food would soon pass.
“Then one day he was just irritable,” Ernestine recalls. “He didn’t want to do anything but drink, drink, drink!” He also was urinating more than usual, so much so that he developed a painful diaper rash. Ernestine, a nurse, recognized the symptoms immediately. She drove her son to the nursing home where she works and checked his blood sugar. It registered 639 mg/dL – about 500 points higher than normal.
“I was freaked out,” she says. She drove her son straight to the emergency room where he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Doctors immediately started him on IV fluids and insulin, and then sent him to Children’s of Alabama in Birmingham where he stayed for about three days until his blood sugar was brought down to normal levels. “I could see a big improvement in him then,” Ernestine says.
While Caleb received treatment, Ernestine was being given an education by the Children’s staff on type 1 diabetes and training on how to keep her young son healthy. She would be responsible for keeping him on a strict schedule with regular meals and snacks, finger pricks to test blood sugar levels, and insulin injections. Hospital staff also assured her that if she had any questions, support was just a phone call away.
It has been more than two years since Caleb was diagnosed, and Ernestine has mastered her son’s schedule. He is on two types of insulin –one, he takes once a day and the other, after meals. He eats a healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner, and has scheduled snacks between meals. She even leaves work during the day so she can give him his insulin shot after lunch, and has a timer set so preschool workers will remember to give him regular snacks. The school also has a machine so they can check his blood sugar during the day and notify Ernestine if it is too high or low.
“It’s like a fulltime job,” she says. “But it’s important for him, and he’s worth it.”